Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)

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Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a nontraditional therapy approach that alleviates distress of associated traumatic memories. EMDR suggests that mental health problems are created from maladaptively stored past experiences, as unprocessed memories.

During EMDR, traumatic memories are accessed and new adaptive associations to those memories are formed. EMDR allows people to relieve their distress, lessen physiological arousal, and restructure unhelpful beliefs. EMDR has shown to be useful for those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, panic attacks, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and had been abused or raped.

EMDR has a three-pronged methodology. First, memories of distressing events underlie current problems. Next, present situations and triggers that elicit distress are targeted to be desensitised. Last, clients acquire skills to form helpful memory templates.

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Francine Shapiro developed EMDR in 1987. She realised that the intensity of her unpleasant emotions lessened when her eyes darted from side to side. Additionally, she found similar results from her own patients.

8 phases of EMDR Treatment

Phase 1: History and Treatment Planning

The therapist records a thorough history of the client and develops a treatment plan. The client and therapist identify possible targets for EMDR such as painful memories, images, or current situations that cause emotional distress.

Phase 2: Preparation 

The therapist explains the procedure of EMDR to clients. The client also learn relaxation techniques to use outside of therapy sessions. Additionally, this phase focuses on building trusting therapeutic relationship between client and therapist.

Phase 3: Assessment 

The client accesses targets in a controlled way to be effectively processed. A specific image from the target event is selected and the client picks a negative self-belief associated with the event. For example, the client’s belief is that “I am worthless”. The client then chooses a positive self-statement that they do believe, such as “I am a good person”. Subsequently, the negative belief is assessed based on the degree of disturbance it causes. 0 is “no disturbance”, whereas 10 is “worst”. Meanwhile, the client is asked to rate the extent the client feels the positive statement is true. The scale is as follows 1 means “completely false” while 7 is “completely true”.

Phase 4: Desensitisation

This phase focuses on the client’s disturbing emotions. During desensitisation, the client remembers the painful image while focusing on the therapist’s back and forth finger movements. Alternatives such as hand or toe tapping can be used too. The purpose of this is to enable the client to process the negative feelings, realising that he or she no longer needs to hold onto them. The goal of this phase is to lower the disturbance rating.

Phase 5: Installation

The client begin to strengthen their positive self beliefs identified in phase 3. This could be done through learning new skills or having more helpful thoughts.

Phase 6: Body Scan

The client is asked to think of the target image, and notice any physical sensations in relation to those thoughts. EMDR is successful when the client no longer experience tensions in the body when thinking about the target. 

Phase 7: Closure

Closure is done at the end of every EMDR session. The therapist will engage the client with a set of self calming techniques and brief the client on what to expect between sessions. Furthermore, the client is asked to document any target related material in a journal.

Phase 8: Reevaluation

Progress made is examined and the therapist identifies new areas that need treatment. This is by examining body tensions, disturbance and positive self statement scales.


Criticisms have been made on whether the eye movements generate change, or the cognitive techniques with the eye movements are change agents. 

To see therapists specialised in EMDR, visit thetherapy.co

Janna was our in-house blog writer and therapy specialist. She has supported The Therapy Platform users towards successful therapy experience. She is about to complete her Master of Counselling.

Janna Lim

Therapy Specialist


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